You might be saying to yourself, “I wish I’d learned how to play the piano as a kid – I’ve always wanted to play – but it’s too late, I’m old and it’s foolish to start now with these arthritic fingers and the joints all knobby and covered in warts.” Or you’re saying, “I’ve never exercised in my life and now I’ve got pain in my knees and heart troubles and my doctor says I ought to exercise – it would make my life so much better – but I’d look like an idiot walking around the block all by myself and Harold won’t go with me, he never goes anywhere except to the Mr. Suds Bar and Grill for a few cold ones, the lazy bum.”
Or maybe, when you finally go for that walk, it feels great, and the birds chirp and squirrels frolic and the sky is blue and the grass is green and you get angry with yourself, and the whole world at large, and Harold in particular, because you didn’t do it sooner. “Why didn’t I do this years ago, before I got so stoved up I can’t even hoist myself out of my recliner and have to scooch up to the end of the chair and rest there for a minute and then start rocking back and forth until I get enough momentum, and then I lean way forward and put both hands down and push with all my might and if I don’t get it all perfectly in sync so that I’m propelled straight up onto my feet, if I wobble even a little and fall back into the recliner, I’ll wet myself because I really, really, really need to go. Why didn’t I start exercising sooner? Why?”
I’ll tell you why. You weren’t ready. You were a mess, and maybe you didn’t even know it. A lot of us do (or don’t do) things because we have some dumb fear that keeps us in the same wacko patterns that have made us afraid we’d be less happy if we did things different, even when common sense and our gut feelings tell us we need to change.
I’m in that pattern right now with eating. I’m a healthy eater – plant-based, lots of fruits and vegetables – a pillar of respectability when it comes to diet EXCEPT at Christmas time, when all the homemade goodies get exchanged. People feel compelled to open a can of sweetened condensed milk and mix chocolate chips in there and heat it up and cool it down and call it fudge and put it in a pretty tin decked out with Santas and holly and give it to me in December, often with a side of butter cookies in the shape of Christmas trees with green sprinkles. Who can resist? Not me. I gain 10 pounds from sugar every holiday season. Then the whole months of January, February and March (and sometimes April and May) are spent chastising myself for doing it because (every dieter knows this formula):
1 pound gained in 24 hours of binging = + or – 3 pounds lost in one month of strenuous dieting
Usually it takes longer, because once the sweets addiction takes hold, you spend at least the first half of January eating every piece of concentrated sugar you can find, even down to those round disks of white hard candy with red streaks radiating out of the middle that taste like peppermint – I think they’re called Starlight mints. They always have them in at restaurant cash registers where the management is cheap and happy not to have to keep re-filling the bowl because no one eats them. Sometimes my husband grabs a couple and hands me one and, so as not to hurt his feelings, I put it in a coat pocket and it stays there all summer and the next winter I put my hand in the pocket and the candy has drawn in a little moisture from the humidity and gotten itself gummed up and turned pink all over and leached out of the wrapper and stuck to the inside of the pocket and I tug it out with my fingers that get all sticky and there’s nowhere to wash them off. You know the ones I’m talking about. In January, when I’ve gone through all the existing sweets and exercised enough willpower not to buy anymore, I’ll resort to eating one of those things because there’s always at least one somewhere in the house. Then, like a drunk in a mud puddle in the rain in a movie who’s reached rock bottom, I know I have to stop. No more sweets. No more McDonald’s fries between meals. No more eating chocolate chips right out of the bag just before bedtime so I can’t go to sleep because of the caffeine buzz. I’ve hit bottom, and I’m overcome with regret.
But consider this. Whenever you come to the point that you want to change for the better, whether you’re 18 or 89 – that’s the best time to do it. Before that, you weren’t ready. You weren’t even capable of doing it. It was not possible. You were too scared, too tired, too busy, too lonely, too afraid. And now you’re not.
Maybe you realize you can’t blame Harold anymore, the no-account bum. You don’t need him to help make you better – you only need you. Right now.
I’ve taken up a couple of hobbies, and that voice in my head is telling me I’m stupid because I didn’t do them when I was younger – when my body and mind were nimble. “You’re an idiot, you know that, don’t you? You should have done this instead of having your girlfriends come over and calling up boys and saying, ‘Who do you like,’ for hours and hours when you could have been using that time learning to play the banjo.”
For some reason, right at this point in my life, I’ve gotten brave enough to do a couple of things I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve resolved to do them with the zeal of youth, and appreciate my progress, no matter how slow. Even once around the block – that little accomplishment – is better than sitting and feeling the life flow out of me like a receding tide.
Up now, UP! Let’s rise up and do something extraordinary – you and me. Let’s stretch our bodies and minds and be the best we can be today. Let’s take piano lessons, learn to sing or dance, take an online class to become a rocket scientist.
And if Harold, the no-good bum, or the voice in our head makes fun of us, let’s not listen. Just for today.